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Borg v McEnroe: Captains’ Contrast

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Close friends, contrasting personalities, Team Europe Captain Bjorn Borg and his career-rival John McEnroe continue to delight crowds with their competitive spirit. 

They were a study in contrasts from the start: The Ice Man, a Fila-clad, golden-haired Nordic wonder, wielding his Donnay along the burnt-grass, second-week baselines of the All-England Club, his expression never betraying what was going on inside his head; and a German-born, Queens-raised Superbrat, all hair and headband, serving, volleying and spewing ‘pits-of-the-world’ gems at those who opposed him, all too happy to wear his heart on his Tacchini shortsleeves.

Borg vs. McEnroe, no first names necessary.

As with the 80-match Chrissie-Martina saga, we couldn’t get enough of the rivalry. Thanks to the four-year-old Laver Cup, it’s been reborn in the form of a Team Europe Captain vs. Team World Captain face-off, though the onetime on-court foes have long been close friends (and their hair long gone to white).

There are still traces of those contrasts that first played out on the court in the late-‘70s, early-‘80s. On the TD Garden sidelines this week, Borg, 65, is still that silent force, rarely doling out advice to his all-star contingent of Top-10ers: Medvedev, Tsitsipas, Zverev, Rublev, Berrettini and Ruud.

McEnroe, meanwhile, has often been seen dispensing demonstrative bench-side strategy, like he did with 21-year-old Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime during his tight 6-7(3) 7-5 10-8 loss to Italy’s Matteo Berrettini on Day 1.

“I think if you compare me and John, we’re different,” said Borg, 40 years to the month after he unceremoniously walked away from the sport at 25, his loss to McEnroe in the 1981 US Open final an ill-fitting requiem.

Friends and rivals for life: the Wimbledon 1981 final won by McEnroe in four sets.

“I mean, he likes to talk a lot. I’m a little bit different. I don’t say too many things. I think that’s important. These guys, they pretty much know what to do on the court and how they should play, because they have been playing against these guys so many times. They know what to do. But for me, I try to give them energy, to motivate them.”

During a visit to Boston’s Fenway Park this week, the seven-time major champion McEnroe reflected on Borg’s icy cool.

“I love the guy. We were great friends and rivals,” said McEnroe, 62.

He’s the only guy I never had an issue with. That should tell you something.

It’s not ironic because he never said anything. It was easy for me and [Jimmy] Connors to go at it, or [Ivan] Lendl. As I got to know him, I was even more impressed. That’s almost impossible for anyone to do. I couldn’t even do what he did in practice, to maintain that sense of calm.”

You can bet McEnroe’s 0-3 Laver Cup mark against his friend Borg eats at him, that rivalry still very much alive after all these years. After his team fell behind on Friday at the TD Garden, McEnroe told the gathered media, “We’ve got to keep battling. That’s step No. 1. We’ve got the energy. We’ve got a great team spirit. But you’ve got to step up when push comes to shove.”

 

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